Over a century ago as America was embarking forward into the global phenomenon of the Industrial Revolution, a young man from New England ventured into the nearby woods to learn a lesson of personal worth that he felt might soon be lost in an ever increasing complex society. At stake was man’s ability to access his proper role within the Creation.
He recorded in “Walden” a brief but famous entry stating his mission as, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach….” Thoreau is long dead, but the call, the “echo of God’s voice” within the creation is still there today that we might learn a valuable truth. The call goes back to the beginning of creation when God placed Adam in the garden and instructed the first human “to dress and keep it.” This job description is recorded in Genesis 2:15 Genesis 2:15And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
American King James Version×. Adam’s job was humanity’s first assignment, even before naming the animals, or “multiplying and replenishing the earth.” The job was twofold in nature. One was to dress the garden which denotes an action of creative effort, but notice the other side of the commission which has a visionary “beyond the moment” aspect-“to keep it.” From the beginning preservation was a demand within the relationship between God and man.
The First Job
Recently a reporter named Roger Rosenblatt went one better than Thoreau. He traversed the jungles of South America to record the life work of Russell Mittermeier- one man who is succeeding for the moment in responding to the “first job.” In his article “Into the Woods,” which appeared in the December 14 issue of Time, Mr. Rosenblatt begins by stating his own wilderness encounter. “It takes a moment to realize what I am seeing: A monkey in a tree. To be specific, it is a black spider monkey swinging through the topmost branches of a ceiba tree in the rain forest in Suriname, the former Dutch Guyana, north of Brazil.
“Thick-furred, with a red face, the monkey moves by sprawling out and brachiating from branch to branch through the high forest canopy…. But then the thought comes to me that this is the wilderness, not a zoo; the monkey is wild; the ceiba tree spreads its lush green cover in a vast tract of 4 million untrodden acres that constitutes the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. Except for the few of us in the camp, there are not any people within a radius of 50 miles, nor is it likely that any people have even set foot in most of this land within the past thousand years. There are plenty of other species in evidence: rain forests contain a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth of living things. Suriname’s is the least troubled rain forest in existence, harboring 200 known mammal species (including monkeys in trees), 674 bird species, 99 amphibian species, more than 5,000 plant species, rivers, rocks, heat, darkness and a silence as deep as stars.”
Reading such an account almost makes one feel as if he or she is walking with Adam and Eve the very first time they explored Eden and all of its fullness. Through Mr. Rosenblatt’s words we begin to conjure the sensual rush that must have been. As we weave through this introductory paragraph with its overpowering and haunting statistics we gain a sense of God’s answer to Job when He said, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4 Job 38:4Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if you have understanding.
American King James Version×).
Laying out this colorful entry of thought, Mr. Rosenblatt continues, “that is the way Russell Mittermeier would like to keep this forest, and all the other forested areas of the world. The president of Conservation International, who is also a first-rate primatologist (A.V. Dartmouth, summa; Ph.D. Harvard), is part scientist, part activist, part barker and part kid. He and Peter A. Seligmann, CI’s founder and chief executive, have gained an enormous amount of money, respect and attention for their 11-year-old organization, based in Washington. Mittermeier, the scientist, is all seriousness and wonder. He has written or co-written several books, including a gorgeous monster-size photographic work called ‘Megadiversity,’ and hundreds of monographs of his beloved monkeys.
“All his traits fuse with the activist to create a formidable force for the preservation of forest life, which needs protectors. Nearly 60 percent of the world’s tropical rain forests have been lost, and what remains is under extreme pressure from logging and human population growth. More than 90 percent of the forests in the U.S. have been logged at least once. And once a forest is cut down, many of the living things it has harbored will be driven into extinction.”
Here is a man who is in alignment with “the first job,” who has a full grasp of the “dominion” over the earth that God granted man from the beginning-a dominion of constructive stewardship that would be creative and preservationist in scope. Preservation of an entire episode of creation called the “Third Day” when God “brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit…. And God saw that it was good.” Yes, we begin to understand “seeing through the trees.”
Out of Step With God
Today, we see the result of countless factors coming into play that are affecting the “lungs of the earth,” the anchor to our soil, the home to countless living entities created by God. Greed, ignorance, neglect, nationalism, and a lack of imagination or foresight have all come into play. Any student of bible prophecy knows that what we see rapidly occurring at the close of the twentieth century will be but a “pittance” in comparison to what the prophecies of Revelation bear out.
Revelation 7:1-3 Revelation 7:1-3 1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
American King James Version×describes the decimation of our ecosystem brought about by humanity’s unwillingness to cooperate with God. Notice how God shares a different vision than Mr. Rosenblatt’s Suriname experience when he brings the future forward to us stating in Revelation 7:1-3 Revelation 7:1-3 1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
American King James Version×:
“After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and sea, saying, Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
Once that is accomplished, Revelation 8:7 Revelation 8:7The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast on the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
American King James Version×gives us a dramatic picture: “And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.” What a contrast between the lushness and vitality of life as depicted by Mr. Rosenblatt and the momentary bleak future view of desolation that lies ahead because of humanity as a whole being out of step with the Creator.
A Seal of Belief
Out of this dismal panorama of destruction springs hope! The beginning of a Second Eden, but only a beginning. Isaiah 35:1-2 Isaiah 35:1-2 1 The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
2 It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God.
American King James Version×describes a world once again in bud and bloom: “The wilderness and a wasteland shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose: It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, even with joy and singing, the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellence of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God.”
God speaks of a time in Isaiah 41:19 Isaiah 41:19I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together:
American King James Version×when “I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree, the myrtle and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine, and the box tree together.” But why this reforestation? Does it serve any purpose beyond eco-management? Notice verse 20: “That they may see and know, And consider and understand together, That the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it.” God is granting humanity an opportunity “to see through the trees” to fully understand and appreciate Him as creator and sustainer. He asks man to learn the lesson of sustaining that which has been given. Sustaining the creation is a seal of our belief in someone greater than ourselves.
The people of this future time, the Millennium, are going to have a second opportunity to fulfill the godly command “to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” The term “replenish” means to fill, to make full, or to finish, to complete. In a sense this is describing that God has made creation and now we have the opportunity to “put on the icing” in perfect balance to what God has started.
Like the book of Ecclesiastes states in its appraisal of all life, “there is a time to reap and a time to sow.” But, to do this will take a new mind, a new vision, and effort to sustain it. Anybody can be offered something, but it’s another thing to keep it good and pass it on to someone else.
Sowing For the Future
There is the story of a man who was watching his eighty-year-old neighbor planting a small peach tree. He asked him: “You don’t expect to eat peaches from that tree, do you?” The old man rested on his spade. He said, “No, not at my age. I know I won’t. But all my life I’ve enjoyed peaches-never from a tree I planted myself. I’m just trying to pay the other fellows who planted the trees for me.” This story is very reminiscent of the true undertaking of America’s “Johnny Appleseed” who wandered through the Midwest of the last century planting orchards wherever he went.
That’s truly a novel concept. It is in a sense the “new mind” that Isaiah shares throughout his writings. That God works with a plan that works . It is the vision of Russell Mittermeier which moves beyond a single peach or apple tree to an entire world. Correspondent Rosenblatt continues, “Realizing that it’s impossible to guard every tree in every place, Mittermeier and CI advocate a focused two-sided strategy. One priority, based on the ideas of British conservationist Norman Myers, is to protect the world’s ‘hot spots,’ areas that are disturbed by human activity but still exceptionally rich in animal and plant species found nowhere else. CI has identified 25 hot spots where preservation efforts could have maximum benefit, such as the island of Madagascar and the Atlantic forest region of eastern Brazil.
“The other priority is to watch over tropical wilderness areas relatively untouched by people, including the upper Amazon region of South America and the Congo basin in Central Africa. In both hot spots and wilderness regions, CI pushes for the demarcation of key reserves that will forever be off limits to agriculture and industry. But just as important is the nurturing of other territories where healthy forests and human enterprise can coexist. CI has a simple message for developing countries: Your forests are more valuable intact and alive than they are chopped down and dead.
“Profits could come, for example, from the marketing of exotic foods, chemicals and medicines found only in the rain forests and from the largely untapped potential of ecotourism. No place is wilder or more worth saving than Suriname, a country with only 400,000 people in a territory the size of New England. Mittermeier holds a special affection for this remote wedge-shaped corner of South America. Last spring, at CI’s urging , the government decided to create the Nature Reserve-about one-tenth of the entire country.”
It is interesting to note Mr. Mittermeier’s intention to not only “isolate creation,” but to responsibly teach and integrate the human creation towards harmony with the world around. Can we begin to “see through the trees” and understand the “millennial call” is not only “don’t touch,” but equally “how to handle.”
An Inter-dependent World
For a moment let’s appreciate why God said “It is good” after the third day. Let’s peek into “Eden.” Mr. Rosenblatt paints a fascinating world of complexity and interdependence.
“Here alone are 300 species of trees. They are at once the pillars and the superintendents of the rain forests, the frame of the house and its chief occupants. The spiny understory palm trees make baskets from branches growing out of their trunks, which become compost machines for falling leaves, which in turn sustain the trees. Since the soil is not deep enough for roots to penetrate, the larger trees like a ceiba have buttresses that lie flat on the platform of the forest; some of the narrower trees are supported by stilt-roots at the base that look like whisk brooms.
“The Parkia tree rises to the sun and spreads a flat umbrella over the others. There is full employment. Trees support lizards and insects, which themselves support birds and monkeys. Army ants bivouac and hang from tree limbs in living nests, with their pupae asleep in the center. Sometimes the trees become food; they can be devoured by strangler figs, which grow from seeds dropped by birds, then rise and surround a tree like a parasite vine, swallow it whole and take its place.”
Sometimes, the task before us can seem overwhelming and we simply don’t know where to start. Russell Mittermeier could just throw in the towel or better still throw away the seed. We, ourselves, could be inclined to just wait for Isaiah to become reality rather than prophecy.
But let’s always remember that we are to “live the World Tomorrow, today!” Let’s face it, at least Mittermeier is making a difference. His actions are pointing to a time when men and women, and all people of good will shall come into a full and responsible relationship with all living things. So what are we planting or preserving in our lives? It may not be a jungle, it may not even be a “woods.” Better still it might seem like a jungle, because there simply doesn’t seem to be a solution to get through the thick undergrowth of the concerns of the past, present or the future. The answers aren’t forthcoming and even if we see them they are seemingly out of reach.
Imagine the wonderful World Tomorrow as nations are not only given new opportunities to “dress the garden, but once and for all are going to be taught how to “keep it.” Ultimately, it comes down to the reality of the most important tree of all-the Tree of Life. It is from this tree God intended humanity to partake of and preserve, from the beginning. A tree whose fruits would allow humanity not only a proper relationship with its maker, but a lasting and proper relationship with fellow man and the environment God offered for stewardship.
But for now, there is one man in the jungle of Suriname who is working with a plan that involves trees, monkeys, bugs, roots and vines. Who is not too close to the trees to truly see the forest; and beyond the forest to future generations. Perhaps, if there was a sign posted outside this reserve in Suriname giving directions it would simply say, “This is the way, walk you in it.” WNP